Laura Ashley's website does have some good points, but having used it this week while searching for furniture, I think there are a few areas which could be improved upon.
I've come up with ten suggestions that would improve the usability of the Laura Ashley website...
Tone down the Flash
The website uses a large Flash display that showcases the various sections of the site, latest additions to its range, special offers etc. The problem is, it's just too big. It takes over more room on the page than it needs to, and also has the effect of making the pages on the site load more slowly than they otherwise would.
Don't hide too much below the fold
The huge Flash display is the main culprit here; the sheer size of the thing means that, even once you have selected an option from it, new collection for instance, you can't see it because it pushes everything else below the fold. I actually thought there was a fault on the site until I realised that I could actually scroll down. I wonder how many users give up on the site for this very reason.
If Laura Ashley insists on having the Flash display, then it should at least restrict it to the homepage and shrink it it a little so that, once a shopper has selected an option from it, they can see the crucial navigation links they need to continue shopping.
Improve the FAQs
Clicking the customer service link at the top of the screen will take you to this page full of questions which do not link to any further information which actually answers them. This means that customers will struggle to find answers to crucial questions about things like delivery charges and returns policies.
Use a larger font for navigation options
The text for navigation links is way too small, as well as being too close together, meaning that it stands out less than it should, making it that little bit harder for users to click on.
Make delivery information less vague
I'm not too impressed by the delivery options on the site and the related information. Amongst the navigation options are links for '28 day express delivery' and '35 day express delivery', neither of which sounds much like express delivery to me.
Clicking on either these links will give you a list of items, but when you get to the product pages, such as this one in the 28 day category, this delivery option is not available. The information is vague as well: 'approximate delivery lead time 8 weeks'.
If John Lewis can deliver this cupboard free within seven days, and on a set date, why can't Laura Ashley at least be a bit more specific about delivery times?
Show delivery charges on product pages
People like to know delivery charges before they make a purchase decision, so one way to deal with this is to provide this information on product pages, where this decision is likely to be made.
A flat fee or a free delivery offer advertised on the homepage and around the site is the best way to get this across and would prevent customers having to hunt around for the information.
As it is, Laura Ashley compounds this problem by making users go a couple of steps into the checkout process before revealing this information:
Don't show out of stock products
I came across several items on the site that, though they showed up while browsing the site, turned out to be unavailable when I attempted to add them to my basket, like this lovely jumper for instance:
Not displaying out of stock items at all is one way to deal with the problem and avoid customer frustration, while other options include offering alternative products or emailing people when the item comes back in. Laura Ashley doesn't do any of this.
Provide some signs of security
For customers with security concerns, displaying logos like Verisign provides a visual reassurance to customers that their card details are safe and that they can trust the site. Laura Ashley does provide links to security information, but these are easily missed.
Don't make users register before checkout
Laura Ashley insists that users register before entering the checkout, though at least this only requires an email address; a password is taken later. Providing the option to checkout without registering removes one potential obstacle for customers wanting to make a purchase.
It should consider making this optional, or at least do more to explain the benefits of registration (order tracking, saved details for next time etc) to customers.
Enclose the checkout
The search box, top navigation menu, and all of the links along the bottom of the page are still on display during the checkout process, providing a potential distraction for customers when they are supposed to be getting on with the purchase.
Enclosing the checkout by removing the main navigation and all unnecessary links, except for those to things like returns policies and delivery details, can have the effect of focusing the customer's mind and funnelling them towards payment.